Atari Mania Review: Bite-Sized Nostalgia (Switch)

Atari Mania celebrates 50 years of Atari by reimagining several of its classics as microgames. What should be a delightful trip down memory lane is let down by technical issues and repetitive gameplay. It offers moments of fun, but you have to wade through lots of filler to get to the good stuff.

Atari Mania Review

It’s safe to say without Atari, the gaming industry as we know it would not exist. Throughout the 70’s and into the early 80’s, Atari hooked people on Pong and put Atari 2600’s into households across America. 50 years later, and Atari’s legacy still holds strong.

In celebration of the company’s big 5-0, developer Illogicka brings us Atari Mania, which takes several Atari games and turns them into bite-sized nostalgia. Does Atari Mania provide a satisfying blast from the pixelated past or is it a painful reminder of a bygone era? The answer lies somewhere in the middle.

Atari Mania is out now on PC and Nintendo Switch for $24.99.

Story – Night at the Museum

The caretaker arrives for another day on the job. This job being running the Atari museum, a place where the company’s characters carry on their digital lives. On this particular day, the caretaker discovers the museum infested with dead pixels. These pixels threaten to consume and corrupt the exhibits, so the caretaker sets out to save them.

The caretaker doesn't take himself so seriously.

The caretaker doesn’t take himself so seriously.

Imagine Night at the Museum, but if the exhibits were old Atari characters. This is Atari Mania in a nutshell. It’s a basic story carried along by incredibly corny writing. The caretaker spends most of the adventure cracking puns, something he himself admits at one point. The puns get tiring, but the writing manages to squeeze out a good joke or two about Atari’s history. Plus, the game’s premise of saving characters from obscurity is quite meta.

Gameplay – Microgames, Millipedes, and Museums

Atari Mania takes classic Atari games and gives them a microgame makeover. Eradicating dead pixels is done by completing microgames. You’ll compete in Pong, save astronauts in Solaris, or shoot outlaws as a tank.

In between these encounters, the caretaker explores the museum, unlocking inaccessible areas using his gear. The exploration is surprisingly well-done. You’ll use your gear to complete basic puzzles and explore areas you couldn’t reach before. It’s not groundbreaking, but it does provide the player a reason to scour every nook and cranny. Collectibles include Atari game boxes and manuals.

You'll regularly interact with characters from various Atari games.

You’ll regularly interact with characters from various Atari games.

These lavishly illustrated boxes are a time capsule of the Atari era. While the games were primitive, the box art wasn’t. They sold gamers on the game instead of the games themselves.

This isn’t a museum simulator, this a microgame collection inspired by all things Atari. Unfortunately, the microgames of Atari Mania aren’t as manic as they seem.

Microgame Madness, Sort Of

Atari Mania’s big hook is how it reimagines Atari 2600 titles as rapid-fire microgames. On paper, remixing Outlaw or Defender into five to fifteen second microgames is ingenious. However, once the initial novelty wears off, what you’re left with is a very hit and miss collection.

Most microgames are basic. You shoot something, collect items, or try to survive within the time limit. It’s a quantity versus quality scenario where the game uses its huge number to hide how forgettable most of them are. As the game progresses, modifiers are added to shake things up, but they’re used sparingly.

It lacks the spontaneity of the WarioWare series. WarioWare excels because its microgames are bizarre yet fun. By comparison, Atari Mania feels safe and pedestrian.

Killing spiders is fun the first time but loses its appeal by the fifth time.

Killing spiders is fun the first time but loses its appeal by the fifth time.

There are some good ones, but you have to wade through several mediocre ones to reach them. This isn’t helped by the fluctuating difficulty. Some games can be beaten in a nanosecond, while others you may beat by the grit of your teeth. A lives system gives you some room for error, but if you lose them all, you start over.

Missed Opportunities

Even though this is a celebration of Atari’s past, it skimps out on the festivities. Finding old box art and manuals is cool, but these are the only collectibles to find. There are no bonus tracks or games to unlock. It’s a shame because such inclusions could have enticed younger generations into learning more about Atari’s legacy.

The game throws in random modifiers like inverted controls, but not often enough.

The game throws in random modifiers like inverted controls, but not often enough.

It feels like such extras were held back and saved for the impending Atari 50 compilation. Instead of uncovering the past, gamers are treated to corny one-liners and dull microgames.

Graphics & Sound – A Little Bit Retro, A Little Bit Glitchy

Visually, Atari Mania’s old-school graphics are pleasing. All the games receive a graphical facelift, so they don’t look like basic blocks and squares, but detailed sprites. A few look generic, but by and large, they look nice. l especially liked the museum. The various exhibits keep the hub world from looking stale. The catchy if repetitive chiptune soundtrack fits well with the aesthetic.

Cowboys shooting giant millipedes is perfectly normal.

Cowboys shooting giant millipedes is perfectly normal.

Unfortunately, the game’s technical issues may lead you to think your system is infested with dead pixels. During my playtime, I encountered framerate drops and delays in loading. The latter happened whenever I was loading a save or engaging a boss. Plus, the game crashed twice.

Atari Mania was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch with a code provided by Uber Strategist.

Atari Mania wants to be a love letter to the golden age of Atari. It wants to be a fresh spin on old games. The end result is the equivalent of trying to play an Atari 2600 on a modern TV. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. The repetitive microgames and technical issues mar what should be a fun anniversary gift to a legendary company. This anniversary gift is a bit underwhelming.
  • Clever premise
  • Fun exploration mechanic
  • Cool collectibles
  • Repetitive microgames
  • Inconsistent difficulty
  • Technical issues including framerate dips and crashes

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